Royal chapel set to re-open to public

Peter Bachhouse
Thistle Chapel by Peter Backhouse.

A Royal chapel considered to be one of Scotland's architectural jewels is set to be re-opened to the public on a regular basis.

St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh is seeking to recruit two part-time members of staff to work in the Thistle Chapel, which is the spiritual home of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle - Scotland's order of chivalry - for six months from mid-March.

More than a million people visited the Cathedral in 2015 but the chapel, which contains stalls for the 16 knights and Lady, the Sovereign's stall and two Royal stalls, was locked in February last year following a spate of thefts.

Ceremonial items including a seat cover, a 19th-century Dutch alms plate, an altar cloth, a tassel from the Queens's throne cushion and a plaque which commemorated Alexander Bruce, the 6th Lord Balfour of Burleigh, were taken.

The successful applicants will be responsible for the security of The Thistle Chapel, designed by famed architect Robert Lorimer and built in the style of the High Gothic architecture of the 15th century, and providing the highest standard of visitor care.

Visitor Services Manager Sarah Phemister said: "The Thistle Chapel is one of Scotland's architectural jewels and St Giles' Cathedral is passionate about preserving it for future generations, whilst maintaining access for visitors from around the world.

"Following the difficult decision to close it early 2015, we are delighted that we will soon be in a position to be able to offer open access to visitors once more from mid-March.

"We are extremely grateful to the public for their generous donations which are very important to the upkeep of St Giles Cathedral and the Thistle Chapel."

Membership of the Order of the Thistle, which was likely established in the 15th century, is considered to be one of the country's highest honours and bestowed on Scots or people of Scots ancestry who have given distinguished service.

Members include the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Phillip, the Duke of Rothesay Prince Charles and the Earl of Strathearn Prince William.

Appointments are entirely in the personal gift of the Sovereign and the current Dean of the Thistle is the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, a Church of Scotland minister.

Entered through a low-vaulted vestibule or ante-chapel at the east end of the Cathedral's Preston aisle, the chapel, which was completed in 1911, is a rectangle of three bays, with a polygonal eastern apse and a stone vault encrusted with a rich pattern of ribs and carved bosses.

The effect is greatly enhanced by heraldic and figurative stained glass in the windows.

Along the sides of the chapel, which has a wealth of detail, both religious and heraldic, including an angel playing a bagpipe, are the stalls, which are capped by lavishly carved canopies with the helms and crests of the knights rising above.

Each seat is decorated with fantastic carvings - no two are alike- and the owner's coats of arms are enamelled on metal plaques and fastened to the backs of their seats.

In the centre of the west wall is the Sovereign's stall, the grandest seat in the chapel.

It bears the royal arms on the single stall plate, and the same arms are shown in the window directly above and on the bookrest, which is carved and richly painted.

On the sides of the book rest are the royal arms of King James VII and Queen Anne, as founders of the order.

Photography - Peter Backhouse.